Archive for the ‘Diverse Books and Movies’ Category

How to Find Quality New Books for Kids

How to find new and quality books for kids

Finding quality literature for children can be a challenge. Yes, there are the old classic mainstays, and there’s nothing wrong with those and they can certainly be enriching for children to read. But books are an important part of building your child’s cultural literacy and kids lit (or children’s literature) today is brimming with excellent and imaginative new titles.

Cultural literacy is important for kids. It builds a common vocabulary with their peers using cultural “touchstones” which hone their abilities to communicate effectively. In other words, to understand and be understood broadly.

But how to find good kids lit? As with all genres, there’s going to be a lot that you or your kids don’t jive with for whatever reasons. Trying to find new fiction that is current and exciting, but also appropriate for your family, can be daunting and sometimes it feels much easier to simply fall back on tried and true classic titles. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, don’t get us wrong, but it can mean your kids are missing out on the richness, diversity, and cultural experience of contemporary works.

Know your terms.

Middle Grade typically refers to books intended for readers between the ages of 8-12.

YA (or Young Adult) is meant for readers between the ages of 12-18, and typically features protagonists in adolescence or early adulthood, and can sometimes include more mature subject matter. Check out this Brief History of YA YouTube video from Epic Reads for some more information and background on YA literature.

There is some crossover between these categories (sometimes you’ll see a Middle Grade novel in the YA section, as well as the other way around), but for the most part these categories can be extremely helpful to know when you’re searching for new books. You probably wouldn’t want to get a YA book for an 11-year-old, but on the flip side your 15-year-old might roll their eyes if you hand them a Middle Grade book.

Own Voices is a term that has been popularized recently. Put simply, Own Voices stories are when the author of the story belongs to the group or experience they are writing about, particularly when those groups and experiences are marginalized.

For example, a book with an Asian American main character written by an Asian American would be Own Voices, but if the story were written by someone who is not Asian American it would not be Own Voices. Although diverse books that are not Own Voices can still have value, it is good to keep in mind where the stories your family consumes are coming from and how accurate their representation is.

Know where to look.

GoodReads is a great resource for finding books and they even provide lists that will tell you, for example, what the hot new Middle Grade titles are. You can be as general or specific in your searches as you want. Keep in mind that book reviews are user generated content and unfortunately aren’t always kid-friendly.

Amazon also has a feature that allows you to search for books by age and you can obviously read the reviews there as well.

Once you’ve found some books that look promising, you can also look them up on Common Sense Media to help gauge what kind of content will be in them. Their book section is not the most extensive but if the titles are newer and popular they will usually be included.

If you’re looking for multicultural kids lit, Scholastic has a great resource for finding diverse titles and how to spot good books for kids that avoid stereotypes. Although it’s written for teachers in a traditional classroom, this criteria can still be broadly applicable for use in your homeschool.

And lastly, finding more recent quality releases can literally be as simple as visiting your local bookstore or library. Sometimes just browsing through shelves, or asking an assistant or librarian for their recommendations, will introduce you to titles you never knew existed. And, thanks to Smart Phones, it’s pretty easy to Google a book or an author on the spot to get more information.

Resources in this post


Common Sense Media

Amazon book search by age

How to Choose Outstanding Multicultural Books – Scholastic

A Brief History of YA – YouTube video from Epic Reads

The Arrow language arts program

Movie Wednesday: Moana

Movie Wednesday Moana

by Amy Frantz, Brave Writer alum

Long ago, there was a goddess named Te Fiti who had the power to create life, until one day a shape-shifting demigod named Maui stole the heart from inside her. A thousand years later, Moana is the daughter of the chief of the Island of Motunui. She has been told all her life that her destiny is to remain where she is and become the next chief. But the ocean has been calling to her ever since she was a little girl and now it’s up to Moana to set sail and save her island for something magical and sinister is destroying all their food. Moana must travel beyond the safety of the reef to find the seemingly self-centered “demiguy” Maui and restore Te Fiti’s heart and bring life back to her island.

[This post contains Amazon affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases,
Brave Writer receives compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you!]

Moana, Disney’s 3D animated fantasy adventure film, was released in 2016. Starring the voices of Auliʻi Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson, with a song writing team including Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame, Moana burst onto the screen with magic, catchy tunes, and an unforgettable heroine.

The film explores themes of identity and the importance of finding one’s own place in the world. It also shows its titular female protagonist as possessing inner strength and resourcefulness, and she is shown in the climax of the film achieving her goal through kindness and understanding rather than resolving her problems with violence, making Moana a role model for girls and boys alike.

Discussion Questions

  • Identity is a central theme in Moana. How do you think each of the main characters sees themselves at the start of the film vs. the end? Do their perceptions of themselves (and therefore others) change throughout the film? How so?
  • Well-rounded characters have both strengths and flaws. For example, Maui is both vain and heroic at the same time. What do you think Moana’s strengths and flaws might be?
  • Moana’s grandmother encourages Moana to listen to her own heart and leave the island, which leads to Moana saving her people. By contrast, Moana’s father continually forbids her to ever leave the island out of a desire to protect her. What do you think the film might be trying to say about allowing young people to make their own choices?
  • Diverse representation is important and Moana features not only diverse characters but diversity in its casting. The filmmakers have been criticized, however, for cultural appropriation and utilizing stereotypes in the film. How, then, do you think we should weigh the pros and cons of films like this?

Additional Resources

How Far I’ll Go (music video) – YouTube video

What Pacific Islanders Want You to Know – BuzzFeed YouTube video [does contain some brief war images]

Movie Discussion Club

Movie Wednesday: Annie

Movie Wednesday Annie

by Amy Frantz, Brave Writer alum

Annie is a foster kid living in the “care” of the bitter and mean Miss Hannigan. Will Stacks is a rich business mogul turned politician determined to become mayor at any cost. But everything changes for both of them when one day Stacks saves Annie from an oncoming truck. A media frenzy quickly swirls around them. Seeing an opportunity to use the positive press to his advantage, Stacks takes Annie in. As the odd pair slowly get to know each other, Annie’s indelible and optimistic spirit begins to crack the armor Stacks has built around himself to keep others out and they each learn that first impressions can change.

[This post contains Amazon affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases,
Brave Writer receives compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you!]

Annie is the 2014 reimagining of the Broadway musical classic of the same name based on the Little Orphan Annie comic strips. The film stars Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie and Jamie Foxx as Will Stacks alongside an ensemble cast. It features several familiar songs from the Broadway show, including the extremely famous “Tomorrow” as well as “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” but also features new music written exclusively for the movie.

The Tony Award winning original Broadway production of Annie first opened in 1977. The show was adapted to film in 1982 and again for television in 1999 before being brought back to film once more for a 21st century audience in 2014. In this remake the plot and characters were “updated” to reflect the time the film was made in.

One such update can be seen in the casting of the title character. The character of Annie is traditionally thought of as a white girl with freckles and red ringlets. Casting an African American Annie in the 2014 film was a step forward for diverse casting in Hollywood films. Watching this film can be a great opportunity to talk with your kids about the importance of diversity in storytelling.

Another one of the more noticeable changes is the way the film treats the character of Miss Hannigan, the cruel woman in charge of Annie’s care at the beginning of the story. Previously portrayed as a one-dimensional villain, in the 2014 film Hannigan is given humanizing moments and a character arc. In storytelling, an “arc” is when a character goes on a journey which results in some form of noticeable change. Basically, the character does not end the same way they began. Miss Hannigan goes on just such a journey in the 2014 film.

Discussion Questions

  • The character of Annie is a pop cultural icon. Did you grow up with her or is this movie your first exposure? How do you feel about the character?
  • If you’ve seen the older Annie films or the stage musical, how do you think the 2014 film compares?
  • Do you have a favorite song from the film? What is it and why do you like it?
  • The film was harshly criticized for its use of auto-tune, which is a process that can allow incorrect singing pitch to be digitally corrected but it can also simply be used as a stylistic choice. How do you feel about the film’s use of this?
  • In this version, Miss Hannigan is given a character arc. Did you find yourself feeling differently about the character by the end of the film? Why or why not?

Additional Resources

Annie Party Ideas

Movie Discussion Club

Brave Writer Podcast: Diversity, Inclusion, & Literature with Charnaie Gordon

Brave Writer Podcast

Charnaie Gordon is a computer programmer by day, blogger and influencer by night, and a wife and mother of two 24/7. She is also a self-proclaimed lifelong learner, podcast junkie, and diversity and inclusion expert.

In Charnaie’s blog, Here Wee Read, she expresses her creativity and passion for reading, diverse literature, and literacy. More than anything else, Charnaie cares about connecting people with great books that they love because she believes – and we at Brave Writer agree – that books are an absolute necessity.

Diversity & Inclusion

Charnaie’s passion for diversity and inclusion is driven by a desire for everyone to have his or her own voice, whether it be through books, television, or other media. She believes it’s important that people of all races, and all ethnicities, are able to see themselves represented and included.

On Instagram and her blog, Charnaie is providing an opportunity for anyone to find a story that represents their family group.

“I try to feature books with kids just doing everyday things. We don’t see enough of this, I believe… but I like to focus on just kids beings kids, no matter what their race or culture is.”

Introducing inclusive ideals (or, unfortunately, non-inclusive ideals) starts at home. We need to be intentional about seeing more people that do not look like us, reading books from and about diverse individuals, and interacting with all different kinds of people so that our children are not afraid of or prejudiced against anyone just because they look different.

A Couple of Charnaie’s Favorite Children’s Books:

  • Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison | Originating as an Instagram challenge, this New York Times Bestseller features 40 illustrated biographies of African American women that helped shape history.
  • Grandad Mandela by Ambassador Zindzi Mandela (Author),‎ Zazi and Ziwelene Mandela (Author),‎ Sean Qualls (Illustrator) | Charnaie is excited about this upcoming book, which will actually be the first children’s book about Nelson Mandela created in collaboration with his family. It will publish on June 28, 2018, shortly before what would have been Mandela’s 100th birthday.

Download the FREE Podcast Transcript

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